Saturday, December 13, 2014

Christmas Lights, Chocolate, and Guitar Repairs

It's been pretty chilly here in the AndalucĂ­an desert. I went through a 10-gallon (11kg) tank of butane gas in only two weeks to heat the water for one of the two radiators in my postage stamp-sized apartment. (I leave the bedroom cold--it's just me here, so why not?) So I decided to try an electric quartz heater -- only twenty Euros at the local hardware store. I haven't seen an electric bill yet, so I have no idea which is more expensive, electricity or gas. But at least with the quartz heater, I can set it next to me and warm my hands as if by the fire.

They've put up Christmas decorations on the major streets. It looks very festive. I noted they were silver and gold, (not well represented in the photo to the left) which, as I've written in my upcoming book about my pilgrimage to Rome, is reminiscent of both the beauty of the cathedrals here and the embarrassment of how all that gold and silver was acquired. (From the Shameless Commerce Division: watch for it on Amazon and all other e-book outlets late Spring or Summer 2015. Working title, which will probably change, is Where the Roads Lead.) I took a walk and couldn't help take pictures of a typical Saturday night on the streets of Granada, except now there are Christmas lights everywhere. People love to go out walking at night. In the historic shopping district on weekends it's as crowded as any mall at Christmas, except it's like this nine months a year, when the university is in session and the city is full of students and faculty. Granada, I've found out, is mostly a university town. There's not much industry here, which is why they're having a problem maintaining the population,, especially with the "economic crisis." (I keep wondering when they're going to stop calling it a crisis and just accept that the economy here is the new "normal." After all, it's been six years.)

We had a national holiday last Monday, which was a complete surprise to me. It was the Day of the Immaculate Conception. There are fifty-three (53!) holidays on the official Spanish calendar. I exaggerate the holiday count a little by including local holidays, but just counting those days of observance where most people in the country don't have to go to work, there are twelve (12!) national holidays, Many of those include a bridge day or two - the day before to prepare, or the day after to recuperate. Like I've said before, is this a great country or what? Not only do you get the day off, but you get time to make dinner and decorate, then
time to recover from your hangover. I haven't been here during Holy Week yet, but I've been told you can forget about getting anything done during that entire week and the Monday and Tuesday after Easter.

I don't think I've mentioned in this blog, but I started singing in the Granada Cathedral choir in September. After the Advent concert at the cathedral some of the members of the choir went out for churros and chocolate at a churreria. If you haven't tried churros and chocolate, it's something you have to try once when you come to Spain at least once, even if you're on a strict diet. Churros are deep fried lengths of dough, similar to a donut, but long and straight. You dip those into rich chocolate, somewhere between the consistency of pudding and hot chocolate. The Futbol Cafe here is famous for having the best chocolate, but we went to another restaurant. (See photo.) I suppose I have a lot to learn yet about churros and chocolate--I've had churros at the Futbol Cafe and I couldn't tell the difference between those and what we had at the Gran Cafe Bib Rambla.

And one more great thing about Granada: I've mentioned my guitar in a previous posting about the Camino de Santiago. It was made by a luthier (guitar maker) in a town about an hour's drive from Granada. After playing it for over two years I've decided that I want the frets changed. Not that they're incorrectly installed or bad for any reason, there are just design differences in frets and the way in which various luthiers will shape them, and I'd prefer mine were different. More details I won't bore you with. I don't have a car to make the trip to Jaen where the guitar was made, but right here, not more than twenty minutes' walk from where I live, are six luthiers that I know of, at least two of whom are world renown. I took my guitar to one of those, Manuel Diaz, this morning to ask his opinion of the matter of changing the frets and, if he agreed, how much it would cost to do the operation. Of course he agreed--he shapes frets the way I like them--but to my surprise, the cost wasn't at all prohibitive and it wouldn't take very long to get my guitar back. Praise be to capitalism and competition! Low prices and quick service. He's also a professional flamenco guitarist so I asked him to go ahead and make any other adjustments he would make if he were going to play the guitar. I can't wait to get it back. I fully expect to play 2.5% better, at least.

Friday, December 5, 2014


Graffiti. (Cross-posted from

One thing about living in Granada, or Spain for that matter:There's no end to graffiti. I've also been in Santiago, Barcelona, Madrid, Sevilla, Bilbao, and countless smaller cities and towns as I've walked through Spain, and graffiti seems to be the national pastime. 

Someone wants to express himself (and I’m willing to bet 99 times out of 100 it’s a he who wields the spray can) so he takes a can of spray paint and goes out at four o’clock in the morning and makes his “artistic” mark on whatever vertical surface looks most appealing or that has the fewest people around to observe him. He and countless others leave their mark on some wall like a pack of dogs marking their territory, and normally what they paint has just as much to offer as what the dog leaves.

But therein lies the problem: It’s not their territory and it’s not their wall.
I really don’t care if the guy is a budding Rembrandt; the wall isn't his to paint on. I was having a discussion about graffiti with another person who said if the painter really has talent she doesn't really mind—some graffiti is really nice art.

Really? I wonder if she would have said that if the “artist” had painted a nice picture on the side of her car.

This is specifically the point. In the right context people can understand the idea of private property—that it’s not OK for someone to do whatever he wants with your property. What if it’s someone else’s property? Most people would agree that it’s not right to paint on the side of someone’s house. OK. So what about the side of an office building, or a wall along a street? Now it’s a matter of whether the owner of the building or the wall has more money than you think he needs, or owns a business you don’t like. Then, for some reason, it’s OK to paint on his or her wall. What if the wall is “public property?” Ignoring the fact that all “public property” is property purchased with money stolen from others in the form of taxation, it remains the case that even the "public" wall is not the property of the one painting on it. The painter has no right to alter a wall that he doesn't own.

I see graffiti as one symptom of a larger problem, a problem that affects our entire society: the fact that the right to private property is not acknowledged as a fundamental principal, inviolable and sacrosanct.

It is specifically the right to private property that is a fundamental bedrock of an advanced society. 
Without it, there is no incentive to plan for the future, to save and invest, to give up today what you might enjoy in the present in order to have something tomorrow. Without the fundamental confidence in the principal that your property is yours and will continue to be yours into the future, forever, to do with as you please, to give to whomever you will, there is no motivation not to consume today everything you produce today. On the contrary, the incentive is not only to consume all you produce, but to produce absolutely no more than you can immediately consume.

It would be nice if human nature were otherwise; if people would work unceasingly solely to give to others without regard for their own well being. It would be a wonderful existence if we were all angels, if no one desired their own property to do with as they please, to make their own lives more enjoyable and comfortable, to secure their own future and the future of their families against an unknown future.

But we’re not angels. And the best way all societies have found throughout history to incentivize individuals to produce more than they consume is to protect and preserve the inviolable right to private property. Property rights promote stability, enable and encourage people to preserve the fruits of their individual labor. Private property enhances economic efficiency. 
Regarding the problem of graffiti, “We may say that a man’s right to property tells us not so much what he may properly do but rather what others may not properly do to him.” (Eric Dalton. “Private Property and Collective Security” Left and Right, No. 3 (Autumn 1966): 33-47.) I would add, not only to him, but to his property.

The graffiti that is so prevalent is not a disease, it is only a symptom. It’s an obvious and ugly symptom, but it’s nothing compared with the devolution of civilized society that is characterized by cynicism, mistrust, and the slow but steady collapse of not only our economic systems but of an entire civilization.

The coming downfall will have been brought on by myriad causes, but in large part it will be the result of the loss of respect for the concept of private property.